November 19, 2009

Inspiring Dreams

by Patricia Ross, Pharm.D., Clinical Pharmacy Specialist, Johns Hopkins Hospital

I am a dreamer. I have been since age 13 when my father passed away. As you can imagine, my father’s death had a profound impact on me. It inspired me to set goals for myself and dream big. These goals and dreams have helped me get to where I am today.

I first heard about the book “The Last Lecture” by Dr. Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, two years ago. Reading Dr. Pausch’s book has been on my to-do list ever since. When I discovered there was a video of the lecture, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” I finally made time to sit and watch it.

I have watched Dr. Pausch’s last lecture twice now. Prior to pressing the play button, I was not certain what to expect. Within the first five minutes of the video, I realized it was nothing like I expected. Dr. Pausch first takes the opportunity to remove the “giant elephant in the room” by discussing his cancer diagnosis, displaying his CT scans and stating his prognosis (three to six months at the time of the lecture). The next 75 minutes are filled with personal stories, photos, live props, a lot of laughter and a few tears.

Dr. Pausch’s lecture is personal to me because shortly after he delivered it, his children suffered a loss that will change them forever, just as I had 22 years ago. At the end of his lecture, Dr. Pausch points out two “head fakes.” First, it is not about achieving your dreams; it is about how to lead your life. The second “head fake” is that he wrote and delivered his last lecture for his children, not for the audience in front of him that day. When the time is right for his children to watch their father’s lecture, I am hopeful they will understand the first “head fake,” just as Randy had envisioned.

Like the millions that have watched the last lecture and have been inspired, I too learned many things. Most importantly, the brick wall theory. Dr. Pausch weaves this concept throughout his lecture. He teaches that brick walls are there for a few reasons. They are not there to keep us out, but simply to let us prove how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who do not want it bad enough, the “other people.”

Realizing that this one lecture is a snapshot of Dr. Pausch’s teaching style, I believe there is a lot for present and future teachers to learn from it. It is easy to see that Dr. Pausch is an effective teacher. In this one lecture, he used humor, real life stories, photos, and props all to deliver his message. His teaching style was very comfortable and engaging, he took command of the stage and never looked rigid. Dr. Pausch also demonstrated an effective way of pausing, timed just perfectly, to allow the audience to process the message he was trying to deliver. He was also not afraid of showing emotion, excitement mostly, which made him more real to the audience.

Dr. Pausch’s central message is that achieving dreams and goals are possible if you get tough enough with yourself and do not give up. That is one of the main reasons Randy Pausch loved to teach. He created courses to help students achieve their dreams. After all, isn’t that one of the main reasons teachers become teachers?

Lastly, Dr. Pausch provided advice that I will carry with me forever. “You just have to decide if you’re a Tiger or an Eeyore? Never lose the childlike wonder. It’s just too important. It’s what drives us.” In the end, Randy Pausch was not only trying to teach his students, he was trying to make them happier people. He has inspired me to try and do the same.

[Editor's Commentary: If you haven't seen "The Last Lecture" yet ... well, you should. The message is inspirational and Dr. Pausch's book expounds on his central messages in greater detail. So, if for no other reason than your own personal growth, you should watch the presentation and read the book. But as teachers, I think there are important lessons that we can derive from "The Last Lecture." For me these include: your enthusiasm and passion are critical ingredients to success; delivering simple messages and illustrating them with stories is a powerful teaching tool; and teaching is less about the content ... and more about inspiring people to do more related to the content and helping them to organize the journey to see the big picture. In Dr. Pausch's case, the content was an examination of the "important values in life." Lecturing is but one instructional methodology teachers have in their tool chest and Dr. Pausch is truly a gifted lecturer. But during his presentation he explores other teaching methodologies that are equally important including discovery learning, mentoring, and performance feedback. So check out "The Last Lecture" - and view it from two perspectives: as a student listening to Dr. Pausch's lesson and as a teacher observing Dr. Pausch's techniques and methods. -S.H.]

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